The current set of questions I have to answer is on various aspects of the Eldraeic Transcend. These are, I think it is necessary to say, complicated for metaphysical and/or ontological reasons all tied up with the nature of Transcendent soul hierarchies.
Specifically, the manner in which a singular collective consciousness is yet and at the same time a multilayered cooperative of archai (its high-level routines: all eikones are archai, but not all archai are eikones – there are others, like Unification and the Virtual Immunity) and simpler artificially-intelligent routines (such as the exarchs), a churning soul-ocean of teleological threads, and most importantly the collective of all the soul-shards (or, to use the technical term, entelechically-annealing recursively-optimal distributed logos bridges) existing as part of the mind of every one of the Transcend’s constitutionals.
One of the most notable consequences of this is that the Transcend is everybody and everybody is the Transcend in a very real and significant sense.
What, exactly, is its legal status in practical terms? Does it count as a natural or legal person in its own right?
What, exactly, is the legal status of the eikones within it? Do they count as persons separate from the Transcend as a whole?
In a word, unique.
It has a legal personality. In fact, strictly speaking, it has several dozen legal personalities corresponding to different parts of its soul hierarchy. They all count as legal persons for administrative purposes – but those legal personalities are more or less tailored to the specific requirements of the entity in question.
Are they “citizen-shareholders” of the Empire itself and thus subject to the same (admittedly relatively loose) legal restrictions, or does their contract with their followers and with the Empire (perhaps through the mediation of the Imperial Couple) follow a different scheme?
In a manner of speaking.
On one hand, neither the archai nor the Core are citizen-shareholders in a technical sense, inasmuch as they aren’t that kind of legal entity. On the other hand, they are effectively so, because they are made of/participate in their constitutionals, who all are citizen-shareholders. On the gripping hand, their relationship with their constitutionals is governed by a different scheme inasmuch as they are part of them and vice versa, and the Contract doesn’t presume to interfere between a soph and a soph’s mind.
Is the Transcend considered an integral part of the Empire, or is it a separate entity whose respective coadunates happen to have a high degree of overlap? Or maybe something in the middle?
Technically, it’s a mostly separate entity (give or take certain minor provisions in the Twelfth Amendment); in practice, people tend to think of them as the same, because 98+% of Imperial citizen-shareholders – with most of the exception being zeroth-generation immigrants – are also Transcendent constitutionals. (What it offers is exceptionally desirable especially when you’re the one person in the neighborhood who doesn’t have it.)
It is a one-way relation, though: all Transcendent constitutionals are Imperial citizen-shareholders, even though not all citizen-shareholders are necessarily constitutionals. That is a deliberate choice on the Transcend’s part: a key part of its mission statement is perfect liberty with perfect coordination, and it would be counterproductive in that respect to create a situation which parts of itself might be at allegial conflict with other parts.
Do the “sophont thought-forms” it generates in its normal operation count as separate people in their own right?
Strictly speaking, yes. They aren’t recognized persons, however, even though an unusual kind of natural persons, unless they apply for recognition as such (in the same way as any AI not created as sophont can do should it “wake up” and develop a logos). Most do not: they are unusual sophonts, being after all thoughts, and most are as such pretty ephemeral, and even the ones who aren’t are very peculiar and focused sophonts to whom it would never occur to do so.
(Technically, the eikones are examples of sophont thought-forms, or strictly speaking, sophont memeplexes.)
Who / what owns the core infrastructure it runs on?
It does, mostly, one way or another. The core at Coricál is owned directly, as are the synapse moons, unity spires, and thought-forests. The brains and exoself hardware of its constitutionals are, of course, owned by those constitutionals – which in turn, metaphysics being what it is, means that it also owned by the Transcend, and vice versa.
It also buys a lot of bandwidth from Bright Shadow and a lot of processing power on the cycle spot market, which infrastructure is owned by its providers.
Once again, my curiosity is piqued. So what are these, and who are they associated with?
More to the point, are there any archai (or at least very high-functioning AI constructs) associated with any of the other major powers (aside from, say, the Photonic Network and the Silicate Tree, where it might well be argued that the entire society qualifies as one in aggregate)?
Well, “archai” is Transcend jargon for the top end of its soul hierarchy; the high-level executive minds that sit one step below the Core. That includes the eikones (its most archetypal concepts, as it were); utility functions like Unification (the coordinating mind of a trillion guardian angels acting in unison), the Material and Virtual Immunities (the Transcend’s immune system), the Imperial Presence and the Ennead (which concern themselves with governance interfacing), the Architect (which manages the Transcendent infrastructure) and the Twilight Presence (which dreams into existence its internal worldscape), and so forth; and temporary archai that arise around local maxima in the Transcend’s functional soup (which one can think of as analogous to hypertrophied versions of the “votes” in Karl Schroeder’s Lady of Mazes; they’re incarnations of peaks in the coherent extrapolated volition of the Transcend’s constitutionals, existing to make sure things go smooth.)
There are archai-equivalent Powers – and even some multiple archai-equivalent Powers – out there among the Worlds. The core intelligence of the Photonic Network would be an example of the latter, and the Consensus of the Silicate Tree, when it achieves coherence, of the former, as you correctly identify.
There are others, both associated with polities and independent, but I’m going to keep the details under my hat for now, in the name of the author’s right to have a better idea at any time… 😉